Part III - The Long Road To Finlayson Point
When I awoke I was unsure of the time, but estimated that it was around 7:00AM (*Update: the data attached to the photo indicates that it was taken at 5:05AM!!). My decision to leave the tent mesh open was a good one. There was virtually no early morning stuffiness (i.e., rank odor) in the tent - and my Joe Rocket jacket and pants smelled noticeably fresher than I traumatically recalled from just last night. When I stepped outside I was greeted with the following view captured below. I capitalized on a rare mosquito free opportunity and snapped a few photos. So this is what it looked like that morning on Rabbit Blanket Lake. It's great to look at photos following a trip - and then suddenly recall the feelings, thoughts, and sense of wonder you had when the original image was captured.
My view of Rabbit Blanket Lake at um....5:05AM.
I knew that the mosquitos would be back for another round - so I donned my helmet and got to work on my morning packing ritual which included 1) returning my sleeping bag it its stuff sack, 2) deflating and rolling up my air bed, 3) disassembling my cot, and 4) placing all of the remaining gear in my tent out on the picnic table. With the new Givi case already secured to the bike, and the convenience of being able to quickly tie-town my cot to the rack - I figured that it took me about 45 minutes to have everything smartly stored back on the bike again. This seemed reasonable considering the level of comfort I was able to enjoy with this setup.
What were my thoughts about Rabbit Blanket Lake Provincial Park? I'd definitely stay here again. Granted - the mosquitos were nothing short of ravenous - but I've learned to expect that in any Northern Ontario park. The keys for me were 1) The convenience of having an attendant there when I arrived at 6:30PM, 2) The convenience of being located just off of the highway (I didn't find the sound of traffic in the night to disturb my sleep in any way), 3) A nice and intuitive campground layout, and 4) A comfort station. At the end of the day, a hot shower, flush toilets, and a sink so you can brush your teeth and shave in the morning is hard to beat.
I was satisfied that I would be leaving early (even though I had no notion at the time - that it was as early as it was) knowing that I had a long day ahead of me. If I wanted to adhere to my goal of reaching Finlayson Point Provincial Park in Temagami by late afternoon - I would have to make good time. Lamentably, this also meant that I wouldn't be stopping as frequently, and snapping near as many photos. I re-traced my route back into Wawa and headed east on Hwy 101 toward Chapleau.
I had ridden this route a few times previously (described in my earlier trip reports) and had driven it often. While it may be hard to grasp after my description of how isolating it can feel riding along the north shore on Hwy 17, this long stretch of blacktop is even more remote and lonely. Yet this is what I was looking forward to - the tranquility of Hwy 101 and the mossy and sandy sections on either side of the road that reminded me of home. I was also intent on paying a visit to Potholes Provincial Park (a day-use area) about 35 kms east of Wawa. I had passed by the sign on many occasions and had wanted to pay a visit for several years. Now I'd have my chance.
As soon as I climbed off of the bike - it was clear that the mosquito situation wasn't going to be any better here - so I opted to keep my helmet and gear on. At least I could find comfort in the coolness of the morning (it was about 7:30AM!) and from the posted signage - the trail was only a few hundred metres in length - so I'd hardly break a sweat. Once again - I found myself all alone. I have to admit there was a certain feeling, a special kind of privilege in being in the middle of nowhere and realizing I had the entire place to myself. When I dream of riding while sitting on my computer chair with a space heater directed at my legs in the middle of the coldest part of January - this is the feeling that I yearn to re-live. And I find myself re-visiting these reveries often.
The uniquely sculpted "holes" in the bedrock were thought to be created when the rocks and debris from glacial melt waters churned around at the bottom of the riverbed and carved the bedrock into the forms you see here. The modest flow of the Kinniwabi river shown below is nothing like the torrent that preceded it when this part of the Canadian Shield was shaped. I was curious about the depth of the water in these holes. Apparently, the water is about 1.5m (5 ft) deep.
After I left Potholes Park, my next stop would be Chapleau, ON for fuel and food - another 85km further east. Along this stretch, I don't believe I encountered any vehicles traveling in my direction, and only a few coming from the opposite way. This truly is a barren highway as far as traffic goes. No road rage to be found here, as there's nobody to direct your rage at. The only drawback is that it's relatively straight - so if you're looking to scrape some pegs - you won't find it here. I filled up at Syd's Esso on the outskirts of town and asked the gas station attendant where I might find a WIFI hot-spot in the area. You can imagine my shock and surprise when she stated there was a Subway restaurant downtown that fit the bill. After my experience in Wawa, I knew enough to not get overly excited. I'd visited Syd's on my previous trips, yet this was the first time that I would actually ride into Chapleau itself and I was immediately struck by how much larger it was than I had expected. And I was shocked to see a free-way-like overpass (over the railway tracks) that would have looked more at home along the 401 skirting Toronto. It curled in a tight 270 degree arc that allowed me to enjoy leaning the bike more than I had the entire day - before twisting the other way and emptying out onto the main drag. I found the Subway to the right of the first intersection. I tried to hide my utter look of amazement when informed that the WIFI connection was functional - and I revelled in being about to communicate with the outside world again. While I ate, I checked my e-mail, and sent out a message to notify others where I was and my intended destination for the day.
After leaving Chapleau, my plan was to ride non-stop to Timmins, ON to re-fuel - a distance of about 200 kms. With the larger fuel capacity of the newer CBR (13L vs 10L) I had the flexibility to ride for longer stints at one time. Almost immediately after re-joining Hwy 101 - I was greeted by a sea serpent-like series of rolling roadway that made me think of the air-time hills of roller-coasters I'd ridden. This treat lasted for about 40 kms. On one of the final hills I noticed the brake lights of a pickup-truck flash some distance ahead as the vehicle crested a hill. I slowed down as a precaution. Turns out - a large black bear - umm...make that an extremely large black bear about the size of Jabba the Hutt - had cross the road in front of the truck. It was the largest black bear I'd seen in a long time. I actually felt relief for the truck. After another 50 kms had passed, I spied the sign to Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park. I intended to stay here on my return trip from Southern Ontario and wondered what stories I'd be able to tell by the time I passed through here again in a little more than a weeks time.
Once I reached Timmins, I re-fueled at a Shell station and made sure to purchase a small pump bottle of OFF! so I could enjoy the experience of setting up my tent without being driven crazy at Finlayson Point Provincial Park. I had never traveled Hwy 101 from Timmins to Matheson previously so I was curious to see what this area had to offer. The scenery around Nighthawk Lake looked quite stunning - but soon the road became more typically Northern Ontario - straight - with lots of bush and tall trees on either side of the road - tunnel vision-esque - and no views. As we approached Matheson, the views began to change with the landscape opening up to reveal an expanse of fields and farmlands on either side. After Hwy 101 subtly turned into Hwy 11 - I found myself riding for another 100kms or so before I noticed a picnic sign on the right side of the road and decided to take advantage of this rest area next to Aide Creek. I also finished the other half of my Subway sandwich - that looked like it was composting in my tank bag in the hot sun. As I was sitting at a picnic table facing the highway - I heard the distinct sound of an inline-4 engine approaching from off to the side. Not sure how the fellow piloting it saw me - as he appeared to be looking straight ahead - but he somehow spotted the bike and me - and returned a big thumbs up and then soon disappeared along Hwy 11.
By this time, I discovered that Temagami was only about 100 kms away and realized I would be arriving at Finlayson Point Provincial Park on-time. Sweet.
The Finlayson (pronounced "FINN-liss-in") Point Provincial Park sign. It's just beyond a tightly cornered highway rock-cut. It kinda creeps up on you. I'm embarrassed to say I missed it a couple of times and had to turn back - even though I knew full well what to expect.
About 50kms away from Temagami, I noticed that my fuel tank was down to the last two bars (about 1/3 of a tank remaining) from the 6 that identified a full tank, but I decided to carry on anyway, as there appeared to be numerous service stations along the route. When I arrived in Temagami with only one bar remaining, I estimated that I had traveled a total of about 260kms on the tank. I didn't realize it at the time, but this piece of information would unexpectedly foreshadow the next fateful leg of my trip. I re-fueled at the Petro-Canada station (that was also home to a.......Subway restaurant) in town and was told that the park was just around the corner. I entered Finlayson Point at 4:30PM, and quickly discovered that the gatehouse was closed and that I'd be self-register this evening. A young man and women in a pick-up truck pulling a trailer arrived at the same time and appeared surprised and just as indignant that they would be following suit. I decided to jump back on the CBR and ride through the campground hoping to find a spot next to Lake Temagami, in a quiet section of the park. There were many sites available. After about 10 minutes of riding - I found a few that looked promising, but when I spotted #37 right next to a beach - I decided to claim it. Now equipped with some insect repellant - I had the protection I needed to go toe to toe with the mosquito dive bombers. Strangely - there was hardly a bug in sight. At the time - I attributed this sudden good fortune to a moderate breeze blowing in from the lake. However, at no time during my stay were the bugs ever an issue. Despite now being equipped with some bug dope - ironically - I didn't need it - and so I set up my tent without any spray at all. Strangely - I also discovered that I couldn't get a cell signal from the park either.
Once my home for the evening was in place, I set off on my bike back into Temagami - to raid the Subway. Only this time there was another WIFI problem. It wasn't so much that this one wasn't functional. The issue was that it simply didn't exist. After I returned to the campsite, I just sat at the picnic table and looked around and daydreamed for about an hour. It was splendidly quiet. With no bugs. I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to reflect on the day, the ride, and the wilderness scene around me. Did I mention there were no bugs?
Then as the sun was beginning to reflect a surreal image on the lake , I thought I'd take another photo before retiring to my tent for the evening to read from my book and do some of my own reflecting. Not long after reading a few pages - my head started to bob like a freshly struck bobo doll. I can't believe I was ready to sleep by 9PM. It had been a long day. I was beat.
Here is a view from the shore next to my campsite.
Tomorrow I planned to visit Caribou Mt. and climb a re-conditioned fire tower that promised some great views of the area. Then it would be off to North Bay, and east toward a waterfall that a friend who grew up in North Bay suggested I visit. I was excited to be joining up with the other riders tomorrow as well.
Tune in to Part IV to see how the next part of my adventure would unfold.